Good Gravy, thanks for posing this question. I have struggled with this question for years, wanting my images to be seen as they are, not marred with marketing clutter. Being a full-time professional (and sole income provider) I have come to this conclusion...Watermarks are wonderful, powerful and absolutely necessary!
- They protect your property by informing people that you are indeed the owner of that image, that you are a professional and that you intend to protect your image.
- They protect your property by making them less appealing to thieves.
- This is your brand. Imagery is your product. Brand everything! Branding helps build recognition. Recognition leads to more jobs (as long as your work is good).
- When an image is stolen your property still markets for you (as long as the watermark is not cropped).
- They cover up some of your proudly displayed image that you've worked hard to create, both through training, financial investment, know-how, timing and placement. (Considering this deters folks from stealing your image you might consider this a Pro.)
I have actually gotten to the point in which I blanket images going on Facebook and other social media sites with my logo. I mean plastered. I have found images stolen from Facebook re-purposed on websites all over the world. Did I get paid? Nope. Were there watermarks on those pics? Nope. Did I get to feed my kids or pay down school loans? Nope. New camera? Nope.
On the otherhand, I have been approached while shooting assignments more than a few times and asked, "Hey, are you RCVisual?" in which I reply with a smile, "Yes I am, why do you ask?" and they say, "oh man, I see your pics everywhere! I love your stuff! Do you have a card?" They know my stuff because I am relentless with branding. Watermark Everything!
This is what I have learned: People that understand the value of professional imagery (those that are willing to give you money) will never NOT hire you because you brand your images. Quite contrary, the brand means you're a professional and they will hire you based on the merit of your work. On the flipside, people who steal will NEVER pay you for imagery, EVER. So make your images less appealing for them to steal. That's the bottom line.